Serving as Pastor/Theologian-In-Residence at Candler School of Theology, the Reverend Donald Allen Harp, Jr. “enlivened staff, faculty, alumni, and the larger community through his thoughtful engagement of Candler’s life and mission,” says former Associate Dean of Development Mathew Pinson. “Members of the Candler community remember him as a pastor, mentor, teacher, friend, and—most of all—an individual who faithfully lived out his calling to serve Christ and the church through pastoral ministry with all of God’s people.”
Born on a farm in Inman, Georgia, on September 13, 1938, Don Harp first came to Candler as a student after having been recruited by Coach Zell Miller (former Georgia Governor) to play baseball at Young Harris College and later becoming a star player at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. Though he had the opportunity to play minor league baseball, he chose to pursue a calling into ministry. While attending Candler, he was pastor of a six-point church circuit in Butts County, in between Atlanta and Macon. Following graduation from Candler in 1966, Don joined the North Georgia Conference of the Methodist Church where he gave significant leadership to the communities and congregations he pastored, including St. Andrew UMC (Carrollton), Northwoods UMC (Doraville), Sam Jones UMC (Cartersville), and Gainesville First UMC. Moving to Buckhead in 1988, he became the senior pastor of Peachtree Road UMC and remained there until his retirement. During his tenure, he led the church through tremendous growth including mission engagement at the local, national, and global levels and an extensive building program. The church’s remembrance says, “His vision, leadership, great faith and love built up the churches and communities he passionately served.”
For ten years at Candler, Don worked as a supervising pastor in the Candler’s Teaching Parish program. Students always loved the “preaching days” when he would invite them over to Peachtree Road UMC and let them preach from the great pulpit! He had one rule: “On that day I make them dress up in their Sunday best!” In the classroom, students hung on his every word and delighted in the stories he would tell, as they gleaned from his wisdom. Carson Thaxton 21T said, “His genuine love for the Lord and for people sneaks into everything he says.” Lathem Postell 20T shared, “As a result of this wealth of experience, Dr. Harp is able to relate to the settings in which we find ourselves.” Geoff Beakley 18T recalled, “When I had any questions or concerns he would meet with me at regular intervals during the semester. We’d discuss what was going on in my ministry and with my school work.” Jason Ratliff 17T observed, “Don Harp has a real gift for seeing the best in every person, and nurturing gifts and talents.” MDiv student Becky Martin reflected, “I know I will recall things he said to me and my peers throughout my ministry.” And Mercy Lineberry McDaniel 16T offered, “Dr. Harp is like a legend and it was awesome to see that he truly loves Jesus and is concerned about God’s church!”
Believing in Candler’s mission “to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world,” United Methodist higher education, and vital theological education, Don worked hard on connections between the school and the church. In 2008, the position of Pastor/Theologian-in-Residence was established as a way to connect students with insights of pastors who had served in long and faithful ministry careers. Drawing upon his background in development and church community relations, Don also served as a special advisor to the dean. When Candler needed new facilities and began planning for its move from its former residence in Bishops Hall to its current home in the Rita Anne Rollins building, Don played an active role in supporting the philanthropic work of the school that led to the completion of the current theology building in 2008. Phase Two, the new Pitts Theology Library building, was completed in 2014. Don always wanted to do more and in his various roles made numerous contributions to Candler. In 2008, he was awarded the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his faithfulness, and in 2014 he received Centennial Medal for his extraordinary service to the church and community.
Don Harp died on Thursday, April 20, 2021, survived by his wife of nearly 59 years, Mary Ellen Dendy, his children and grandchildren, family, colleagues, numerous congregants, former students, and many friends and acquaintances. As recounted in his tribute, “He was a dynamic and well-loved minister who touched countless lives… While he received his doctorate and many accolades and honors, his greatest legacy was his gift for connecting with people. He was at home with rural folks and Buckhead CEOs… He came to the assistance of those in need without reservation.”
When I graduated from Candler in 1987, Dr. Harp called me one day to talk about a ministry opportunity. Though I did not know him personally and was already committed to another appointment, I knew who he was and felt honored by his call. Through the years, he called on a number of my colleagues and offered them great opportunities in ministry, because he was always interested in developing younger clergy leaders. When I later became the director of the Teaching Parish program at Candler, one of the advantages was that I finally had the opportunity to work with Don Harp. I watched as he worked with our student pastors, teaching best practices, coaching them in their ministries, and encouraging them to always be their best. I also enjoyed our breakfast meetings at Waffle House, listening to his stories about life and ministry, and learning from his great wisdom. He was a beloved and revered mentor! It was in these kind of special moments that I realized that I too was one of his students.
Whether a short greeting in the office, hallway, church, or at a special meeting, Don Harp was a welcoming personality, treating others with interest, kindness, dignity, and respect. Always dressed to the nines in a dark suite and a sporty tie, he had a sparkle in his eye, a firm handshake, and a gentle wit and laughter. At Candler School of Theology, we will miss his (Methodist) “warm heart,” gracious presence, generous spirit, and unwavering friendship on the podium, in the atrium, and the classroom, but we give thanks for his life as we continue to live into his legacy.
A Celebration of Life service for Don Harp will be held on Saturday, May 15, 2021 at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church at 11:00 a.m. COVID precautions will be in place and a livestream of the service will be available on the church website.